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Quakes compound Congo woes

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | January 25, 2002

Near-hourly earthquakes

rocking Rwanda and Congo Friday compounded the misery of

those without homes or livelihood after the eruption of

Mount Nyiragongo Jan. 17.

In Congo, the quakes were leveling many homes and

buildings that escaped the lava flow. And in Rwanda,

some government reports indicated more than a thousand

homes had collapsed.

Mount Nyiragongo's eruption last week destroyed nearly

half the city of Goma, sending hundreds of thousands of

people fleeing across the border to Rwanda. According to

volcano researchers, earthquakes could continue as long

as magma is settling in the mountain.

Most of the 500,000 people that fled Congo are back in

the country but many are posed to evacuate again in the

face of another eruption or stronger earthquakes. There

are conflicting reports from officials as to whether the

volcano still poses a threat.

People returning to Goma are trying to check on their

properties and salvage what they can, reported the

Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Many have homes that

may have escaped destruction because they're located on

the far side of the lava flow. But it's still extremely

dangerous to travel across the lava, which may not have

hardened sufficiently.

A cold, heavy rain Friday was further burdening

humanitarian response efforts.

More than 15,000 evacuees are still in Rwanda, many of

them seeking shelter in Methodist, Episcopalian, and

Presbyterian churches in the Gisenyi area.

The uncertainty that grips the region is not only

emotionally taxing for residents but is logistically

challenging for relief workers, said Judith Melby of

Christian Aid. "People have to be registered. Aid

agencies need to know where people are and what they

need," she said. "If there were more tremors or

eruptions here in Goma, then we don't know whether

people will flee over the border again."

Many faith-based disaster response agencies are

funneling their efforts through Action by Churches

Together (ACT), a worldwide network of church-related

agencies that coordinates emergency humanitarian


In Goma, ACT partners are providing water, food, plastic

sheeting, blankets, and cooking utensils for some 60,000

people, particularly children and the elderly. ACT is

also providing water tanks as well as units for water

purification, piping, pumping, and sanitation.

Government officials in Goma have designated five

distribution points for food and other relief goods

while Rwandan officials have designated three such


In Rwanda, ACT is distributing food and relief goods in

Ruhengeri and Gisenyi.

ACT partners report it is difficult to get food into

Goma. The airport was partially destroyed by lava, and

many roads are blocked or in a state of disrepair.

According to LWF, establishing feeding centers and

kitchens is crucial since many people no longer have a

way to prepare or cook food. There is also a shortage of

firewood in the region.

Water provision also remains a priority, with ACT

reporting that only half of the existing permanent water

supply system is functioning in Goma, and that many

distribution channels are broken. Water continues to be

transported to various distribution points.

Christian Aid, LWF, Norwegian Church Aid, and Protestant

Council of Rwanda are among the ACT partners responding

locally. Many staff members from these groups are

expressing the willingness and ability to help in spite

of having damaged or destroyed homes and offices


Many faith-based disaster response groups sent emergency

grants toward ACT's efforts, and most indicated plans to

send additional funds. Lutheran World Relief provided an

initial grant of $25,000. The United Church of Christ

sent $20,000.

The threat of cholera looms, and a few cases have been

identified. There have been reports of Goma residents

using a local lake for drinking, cooking, and bathing

even though lava has poured into the lake. The tainted

water poses a risk for the spread of both cholera and


Interchurch Medical Assistance (IMA) sent shipments of

medicines to Goma from its offices in both the U.S. and

in Congo's capital city of Kinshasa. Church World

Service (CWS) contributed $10,000 toward shipping costs.

Last year IMA rehabilitated many medical clinics in

Congo, including one near Goma that is still functioning

after the eruption.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is also focusing on

health-related response by providing the salary and

transportation costs for a Congolese doctor who will

coordinate a health-related response in Goma.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Adventist

Development and Relief Committee, and Baptist World Aid

are also involved with relief efforts.

Related Topics:

Lava bomb injures tourists

Faith groups respond in Guatemala

Thousands flee volcano eruption

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